Interview with Neil Garrick-Maidment, Executive Director and Founder of „Seahorse Trust“

By Hannah Schartmann.

A warm welcome to Neil Garrick-Maidment, Executive Director at the Seahorse Trust.

The Seahorse Trust has the main aim to protect seahorses. Why is it important to protect them?

Like so many species in our world, seahorses are going extinct at a very fast rate, which we estimate at approximately 150 million seahorses per annum, which leaves us about 25 years left before they are functionally extinct.

Seahorses position in the eco-system is very important as they are not only highly adapted predators (they eat up to 65 full grown shrimp a day) but also they are heavily preyed upon (out of every 2,000 fry born, only 1 or 2 survive to maturity) and so they are very important to the system as a whole.

What are the main threats to seahorses?

There are three main threats to seahorses; the traditional medicine trade, the curio trade and being caught for pets. Added to this the wholescale destruction of their habitat, means seahorses are on the edge form all sides.

The British Seahorse Survey is the longest running seahorse survey in the world. What is this survey about?

I started this survey in 1994 (before I founded the trust) to learn more about British Seahorses. Everyone kept telling me British seahorses were not indigenous but I didn’t feel this was right and so by setting up the survey were discovered we had two species native to our waters and as a result of the survey we managed to get them both legally protected under the Wildlife and countryside Act and this then led on to making Studland Bay protected and helping with a number of Marine Conservation Zones.

The survey has now extended around the world into the World Seahorse Survey and we collect data for over 33 countries now and if we can raise £5,000 we will put an interactive map on our website and an online portal to the database so others can use the data to learn about and conserve seahorses.

What do I have to do when seeing a seahorse in the wild?

In short have a great deal of luck! Seahorses are highly cryptic and hide very well and so a lot of patience and being calm under water is very important. Stop, be still and just watch, you will understand more about these amazing animals by just sitting and watching. Crucially if you find one, never use lights or flash to photograph it and never hold or chase them. If the seahorse starts to look stressed then stop and/or back away.

How can I see if a seahorse is stressed?

As a seahorse gets stressed, its colour starts to darken and it bends its head downwards to present less of a profile. If this is continuous then it could in the long-term lead to the death of the animal. If a seahorse is so stressed it swims off, do not follow it, it wants to get away from you, let it. We have a list of guidelines on our website to tell you what should or shouldn’t be done around seahorses and please send your reports into us to add to the database.

How can I submit a seahorse sighting?

You can either email us directly on theseahorsetrust@gmail.com or you can fill in our online survey form which is on the website. Download it and save it to your computer then fill it in and send it back to us. One of the most crucial things on the survey form are your contact details because we usually need to know more. There are lots of things we ask for in the survey form such as location, grid reference, habitat, species, the sex, how it was found, weather conditions etc.

What are your goals and plans for the future?

We have so many, too many to list here but a world where seahorses and other species are secure would be amazing. To this end we are setting up projects and partnerships all over the world including one in Jordan and we hope to build the National Seahorse Centre at Exmouth in Devon in the next few years.

What do you think: How should a healthy ocean look like?

A balanced system where mankind has not caused it to tip towards complete breakdown; we as a species know what we are doing and so we must do something about that and stop our (it is only us humans that are doing it) destroying the world’s eco-systems, on land and at sea. We tend to forget that the land and sea are connected and what we do on one can have a devastating effect on the other.

I have been lucky enough to dive in most of the world’s oceans and so have seen the good things and bad. But to see a pristine coral reef like I did in the Sudan (which ironically was protected because of the war there) where there was little no effect of mankind was amazing and it would be incredible to see all or marine ecosystems returned to a good state; one where species are abundant and live in complete balance.

Do you have any messages for the general public regarding marine conservation?

Time has run out, we are now at that point in human history where we are about to step over the precipice and plunge into an unknown future. For the first time in the history of our planet, one species (humans) have caused so much damage that the future is unknown and uncertain. We can still step back from that precipice but time is NOT on our side and we all, every single one of us, has to act together and not let individual greed take over. Unless we work together then humans will become extinct and our legacy on this stunning planet will not be a good one. As conservationists and fellow humans it is our job to work together and undo the damage we have done.

Thank you very much for the interview! You can learn more about the Seahorse Trust and how to help on the website: https://www.theseahorsetrust.org/

Copyright of all pictures by Seahorse Trust.

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